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Ashley Jackson, Jett Zero, Ray Bentley Beat Writers
Banner image by J.R. Lawless

With the exciting conclusion to the Simulation Football League’s 13th season entered into the history books, excitement is already building around the SFL for the fourteenth season. Commissioner Cameron Irvine recently announced an almost 50% increase in roster sizes, from 12 to 17 players per team for Season 14, ensuring that every team has an open spot to draft up-and-coming rookie talent, who have been joining in droves since the league’s television partnership with Eleven Sports. Thanks to Season 13’s Couch-to-Field program, some of them have already seen on-field experience, while others have only spectated the games. With the advent of the live draft on December 14th, they’ll all be given the opportunity to hear their named called live on-air by the commissioner and an assembled team of experts (and Ray Bentley). In the spirit of the league motto (#MakeAnImpact) we here at the Beat Team will be publishing interviews with these stars-to-be so that the rest of the league, and our fans, will be able to get to know them a little better before they settle down with a team next month.

Our intrepid writing team met with the following six rookies, some of whom were able to gain valuable on-field experience last season during the original Couch-to-Field roster expansion. The rookies for this interview include: Jett Zero, Dave Axis, Jacob McCall, Chad Roland, Mark Melo and Mike Improta. Mark, Chad and Jett are all rookie veterans (now there’s a phrase!) who had non-contract on-field experience during Season 13, while Dave, Jacob and Mike all joined at various parts of the previous season as spectators.

Who are you, and what are your interests?

Jett Zero: My name is Jett, I am in my 20’s from Upstate NY and I am an electrical Engineer by trade. I love football, listening to and playing music, video games, and spending time with my family.

Chad Roland: My name is Chad Roland. My interests are sports and technology (I do work for a tech company so I guess it makes sense)

Mark Melo: My name is Mark Melo, I’m 38, and my hobby ever since childhood has been creating fictional or realigning existing sports leagues.

Mike Improta: Mike Improta from Rhode Island Shinin! The Great Ocean State…Don’t mess with Texas, BUT don’t mess with Rhode Island! LOL.  Interests include all sports, the outdoors, eating italian food and seafood, giving thanks to the Good Lord and spending time with my wife and two daughters.

Dave Axis: My name is Dave. My nickname, given to me in the Marine Corps when I was only 20, is Axis. It was given to me because, like a lot of cocky 20 year-old Marines at war, I thought the world revolved around me at the time. Obviously, a lot has changed since then… I am now 50 years old, semi-retired, been married to my beautiful bride for over 27 years, and I have two sons (ages 25 & 21). I am a California lifer who just moved to Knoxville, Tennessee two months ago. I am a sports fanatic! Football, baseball, basketball, hockey, soccer, softball, etc. I’m also a big wine guy and I’m considering opening my own wine bar in the future.

Jacob McCall: My name is Jacob McCall and I like to play videos and make YouTube videos.

How did you find out about the Simulation Football League?

MM: I found the SFL while searching YouTube for videos on 2K8 and Javo’s patch.

MI: I was flipping through the TV channels and came across the Simulation Football League…I kept skipping by it for a few weeks and kept seeing it over and over again in the guide. I finally decided to see what it was, and from the first minute I viewed what was going on became addicted.

I was literally channel surfing on the night of Wild Card Saturday when I came across the ElevenSports Network. I was like…”WHAT???, how have I not heard of this???”.  I was hooked right from the start and have been watching, chatting, or messaging about the SFL ever since! The SFL community has been amazing and I’ve been fortunate enough to talk with several people and a handful of teams.

~ Dave Axis

JM: I found out about the SFL on twitch homepage while studying for classes. It seemed really fun, so I joined the next day

JZ: My buddy from work heard about the SFL on the radio of all places and came in and told me about it. We both looked into the league and ended up joining. Ultimately, he felt it wasn’t for him but I started reading through all of the history and talking to players and got really involved.

CR: I was on YouTube and saw a video about the SFL, so I thought I would check it out.

What was the first game that you watched? Describe the feeling you received while watching it!

DA: Well, the Houston-Chicago Wild Card game was already in progress when it popped up on my tv. I immediately starting recording as I tried to wrap my head around how awesome this was! The second Wild Card game between Tulsa & Atlanta gave me the opportunity to take in the whole experience from start to finish and I was mesmerized! I remember liking the Atlanta Swarm and their star running back, Hollewood. I still couldn’t believe I had never heard of this and it reminded me of the Madden leagues I used to run in the Marine Corps back in the early 90’s on Super Nintendo! A huge atta boy to Cameron Irvine for making all of our dreams a reality!

First game I watched was the Atlanta game that Andy Hamilton & Eddie Gauge had called.  Andy was mentioning some names he hadn’t seen in the chat before, and he read mine on live TV.  When my wife heard him give me a shout-out, she almost fell off of the couch!  It was a great game, and when Andy started going crazy during the BDG Hollywood run, saying “That’s the best move I have ever seen!” – I was so fired up!

~ Mike Improta

JM: The first game I watched was Tulsa vs Seattle I believe. I got this excitement and awe of seeing the presentation and commentary, so I had to get in on this.

JZ: The first game I watched was LV against MXC in Week 7 of s13. I was signed by the Las Vegas Fury as a non-contract rookie and the Aztecs game was the first game that my player was a part of. It was awesome seeing my player on the field and hearing my name announced in the broadcast and watching the back and forth action of the game.

CR: My first game was the week 5 game between Baltimore and Las Vegas. I started to watch it thinking I would turn it off but I watched the entire game. It was awesome to see that something I did as a kid which was simming football seasons in madden was being done this way. Once I got into the Discord server and seen what all happens in the league I knew I had to get involved right away.

MM: The first game I watched in full was MXC v ALK in week 4 or 5 [EDITOR’S NOTE: Season 13, Week 4]. What an exciting game; Bentley was a beast!

What positions are you trying to fill and why did you select those particular positions?

JM: Wide Receiver. I chose receiver because my favorite player Odell [Beckham Jr.], to see him and other receivers break big plays every week made me want to be the next big receiver in the SFL.

JZ: The main position I am seeking for my player is QB. I feel like I could be a great leader for a team trying to make a playoff push and an excellent motivator in the locker room. I personally identify with QB and DB most based on my physical abilities and past playing experience.

CR: I am planning on being a Defensive End. My reason for that was my cousin who I was very close with, and who died when we were in high school. He played football as DE and wore #71 like I do. So I dedicate my SFL career in his honor.

MM: Originally, I had planned on being a Defensive Back, but switched to Kicker after signing a rookie contract with Tulsa. I became inspired by legends Kramer Jackman and Kole Varner.

MI: I would love love love to play Half Back.  When I was a kid, I loved Tony Dorsett and Earl Campbell, and if I can create a player combining those two, I would be ecstatic…Back in the day, I used to watch them, now they’ll be able to watch me!

DA: sent out an introduction message to all the teams in the SFL and this is what I told them about the positions I would like to play…

I would love to run perfect routes and make dynamic catches with my blazing speed as a slot receiver in the mold of Wes Welker, Julian Edelman & Hunter Renfrow.

If that doesn’t fit your team needs, I would love to be a shutdown CB with my blanket coverage, high jumping, intercepting hands, and intelligent play recognition in the mold of “Prime Time” Neon Deion Sanders or keep opposing WR’s stranded like Darrelle Revis on “Revis Island”!

Do you plan to get involved with the SFL in more than one capacity, such as broadcasting, beat writing, or doing stats?

DA: I am absolutely planning on doing more than just playing. Initially, as I learn the ropes, I plan on being the best teammate and rookie that I can be. I would like to take on more responsibility as I grow and feel more comfortable. My eventual goal is to become a team owner in this league so I feel it is important to learn all the other steps in the process on my journey to ownership. I also had a brief background in broadcasting way back in the mid-90’s so that could also be a possibility.

JM: Yes. I want to get into coaching and one day be an offensive coordinator or head coach of a SFL championship team.

JZ: I am currently a member of the SFL Beat team and routinely contribute to articles and conduct interviews with players and potential rookies to help develop exposure for the league. I would be open to stats and/or broadcast one day as I become more familiarized with the league by going through a full season and speaking to more members of those respective groups.

CR: I am currently on the stats team and I am the General Manager of the Baltimore Vultures

MM: I helped Tulsa with analysis / scouting during my tenure, but currently my schedule is a little full with projects to give a greater role its due.

MI: I’ve been going back and forth with how I want to be involved. I want to learn more and see how it works before heading in one direction or another, but I think I’d like to get involved with doing play-by-play or contribute to the beat team at some point.

What are your expectations from the team that drafts you?

JM: I expect my team to be committed to winning. To have a culture focused on being the best each weekend, and have the belief that we can best any team and become a dynasty.

JZ: The team that would be the best fit for me would be active, friendly and inviting, respectful, and looking to win football games. What I am looking for most is camaraderie and team loyalty in the locker room, a group of people working together towards a common goal and having fun doing it.

CR: My team needs to be a world class organization and values winning and culture

MM: I expect open communication with the coaching staff about upcoming opponents and development through progression.

MI: Balling out every game! Making lifetime friends and having a great time. I want to know how to strengthen the team each week and learn from the veterans who’ve paved the way.

DA: Teamwork. Edification. Respect. FUN!

What values will you bring to your team?

CR: I bring a team first attitude, leadership, and willingness to learn.

MM: I’m an individual with a good sense of humor, but I’m also humble and coachable. I’ll bring the Zen to the locker room, after all, the Kicker needs to be the calm in the middle of the storm.

MI: I want to bring the fun and the intensity to go to war! On the field, I got your back! Off the field, lets party! Let’s give thanks to GOD (Tom Brady!), and always appreciate the opportunity to enjoy the people we meet in the SFL.

To my future team I will be sure to bring motivation, determination, camaraderie, sportsmanship, and entertainment. I want to develop relationships with my fellow teammates and look forward to doing something great together. I am willing to work hard and scout or help coordinate playbooks or remind rookies of check-ins or players about progressions or whatever the team needs me to do. Team and player support is my main objective.

~ Jett Zero

DA: Character. Integrity. Discipline. Hard work. Fun!

JM: The values I bring to a team would be a guy who is all-in. I want to play for one team my whole career if possible. I’ll be the first one in and the last one to leave in order to be 100% and help my team win.

How do you, personally, handle trash talk and adversity?

MM: Trash talk is just part of being competitive. I don’t take it personally.

MI: I LOVE IT!  That’s how you have fun. You can’t take things too seriously. I love to laugh and enjoy the passion it creates!  Adversity is life – But in the SFL, how can there be adversity when you decide to be involved for enjoyment?  This is fun and exciting stuff!

DA: I think a lil trash-talking can be healthy. The issue is when people get too personal and take it too far. Being in the military, I’ve heard and dished out quite a bit over the years. As I mentioned earlier, I’m a former US Marine, and we handle adversity by adapting, improvising, and overcoming.

I let my play on the field do that for me.

~ Chad Roland

JM: Trash talk comes when you are dominating that defender. It’s a last resort to get into your head. So I just tell em to look at the scoreboard and keep burning them like I already have. As for adversity, it will come. Every team and every player faces it. All I can do is see as a lesson and build on it to be better.

JZ: Trash talk and adversity is usually just a part of the game, its what helps get players and coaches motivated to do their best job and keep the rest of the league honest and on notice. Rivalries, competition, and sportsmanship are what drives our love and interest for the game and this league, so responsible levels of “trash talk” are certainly welcome, as long as there is no intended animosity behind those words and things are kept respectful.

Why should a team select you?

MI: You want to kick some ass and have fun doing it?  You want to laugh and enjoy good times in the locker room?  You want to look forward to every game our team plays?  I’m the guy you’re looking for baby!

DA: I believe a good fit with an organization, where everyone is on the same page working toward the same goal, is the most important thing. The team that drafts me will get everything I’ve mentioned so far and more. I am dedicated, I am hard working, I believe in preparation (and what we call the 7 P’s in the military), I am competitive, and I like to have fun! Winning isn’t too bad either!

Cause I’m the [EXPLETIVE REMOVED].

~ Mark Melo

JM:A team should draft me because they want someone who is committed. Someone who will do whatever he has to do to make sure we win and if we don’t win, see what we have to do to be better. I’m a ball player through and through.

JZ: A team should want to select me based on my character, activeness, loyalty, determination, and overall fit with their personal team dynamic. Team owners and coaches should see me as a player they want in their locker room, who can be active in chat and team planning, and will always strive for greatness as a part of the team and as a member of the SFL. And I will work hard to check all of those boxes.

CR: Chad is the General Manager of the Baltimore Vultures, and is therefore ineligible to be drafted. But he does have GM experience now!

Where are you ranked on the Rookie Big Board (at time of interview), and how many check-ins have you done?

MI:  I have no idea where I’m ranked on the rookie board to be honest. I’m 5 for 5 with the check-ins and think I’m #30 in the chat rank? I’ve had many teams reach out to me over the last few weeks asking me where’d I’d like to play and if I wanted to join their teams.  If you’re looking for a Half Back that’s ready to roll, “CAN YOU DIG IT?!?”

DA: I’m not sure about my ranking on the Rookie Big Board but my current ranking as of Saturday, November 2nd, is #129. I have 3 Rookie check-ins thus far and I won’t miss any. I’ve been checking in since the first Tuesday following Wild Card Saturday.

JM: I don’t know my exact ranking but I am 6 for 6 on my check ins and expect to be perfect all the way up to the draft.

JZ: I am currently 1 of 12 rookies on the Big Board that have perfect check-ins AND have the maximum banked progression going back to Week 1 of the Rookie check-in period. I am also currently the highest ranked rookie on the chat leaderboard at #16 overall.

CR: I have 11 weeks banked and haven’t missed a single check in.

MM: I’m currently top 40 chat, and perfect check-ins.

What’s the most important aspect of being on a team?

DA: Teamwork! It’s always about teamwork. Being a former Marine, teamwork is everything to me and I am definitely a team player. One of the things I remind my own 2 sons (ages 25 & 21) who are both in management/leadership roles in their current positions is: Team Goals > Personal Goals. More times than not, if your team reaches their goals, you will reach yours or realize that your goals have changed.

The most important aspect of a team for me is the bond we create. We should be one unit, both offense and defense.

~ Jacob McCall

JZ: The most important aspects of being on a team in the SFL, to me, are camaraderie, relationships, and teamwork. I want to be on a team where the players are always there for each other, discussing SFL strategies or just personal stuff that you can feel free sharing with other people. The friendship component is key.

CR: Family.. Your teammates are family. We all fight for each other to achieve the goal of a SFL title

MM: Collaboration and cooperation.

MI: Making friends for life and learning what’s important to them. Sharing experiences and laughing a lot!

Have you ever played any sports in real life? If so, what were your positions?

CR: I played baseball growing up. My position was catcher until I messed my knee up

MM: I played high school football as a centre. My school sucked. I play tennis and soccer with friends occasionally and have tried Aussie rules football (do not try this at home, kids!).

MI: I’ve played Division 1 Soccer in College and have played every position on the field, basketball have played the point, baseball have played 2nd, 3rd , and SS, and in hockey played center…Ironically, I’ve never played Football, but love the hell out of it!

DA: Absolutely! I played the 3 major sports growing up all the way into adulthood. From school-aged sports to high school to Marine Corps to adult leagues, I’ve always been active. In football, I played halfback and receiver until I got to high school and realized all my pads weighed more than I did and the guys hitting me were twice my weight & size! That’s when I became a 2-sport athlete!

Baseball was the first sport I ever played. Started T-ball in the 2nd grade and played Little League, Senior ball, and high school. I played softball (basketball & football too) leagues in the Marine Corps and played on tournament teams for several years into my 30’s. I almost always played Shortstop and Pitcher.

I was always the Point Guard in basketball, which was my best sport. Being short, I was always underestimated, but not for long. As a Jr & Sr in high school, I could actually grab the rim at only 5’6”! I modeled my game after Magic Johnson and excelled as a youth and into high school. I was even recruited for a short time by a local Jr College. I continued to play in adult leagues all the way into my 40’s. Basketball, to this day, is still my first love! I also spent 20+ years coaching basketball from small children all the way to the high school level.

JM: I only really ran track. I ran the 100 meter hurdles and 400 meter dash.

JZ: I played some football in high school as a DB but mainly was the captain of the varsity track and field team for 4 years (sprints, relays, and middle distance).

Any shout-outs or last words?

JZ: I’d like to shout out Tom Ramen for seeing the potential in me and giving me a shot on a team when I first stated, helping me learn to scout and read formations and the mechanics of APF and the league itself. I’d also like to shout out Ray Bentley for allowing me to join the beat team and try my hand at creative sports writing, Ashley Jackson for having me on her rookie podcast in my first week, and DPP (Rasty) for answering A LOT of my questions when I was brand new and setting me straight. And of course, to Cam and all of the other league staff who work hard every day to produce a great product on and off the field that league members get to enjoy daily. The SFL is a great league for simulated football, but it’s even more so a great community for people with common interests to share their thoughts, talents, experiences, and personal lives with each other, and that is something that I love being a part of.

MM: Thanks to Dion, Espnn, Ashley, and Kanye for the opportunity to play in Season 13. Really looking forward to the draft!

MI: Thanks to Cam Irvine for having the foresight and fortitude to get this going! It’s just a matter of time before this thing gets so big that you’ll be turning down offers to take it in different directions.  Without you, this isn’t happening. Many Thanks to everyone who’s helped me answer all of my questions and create an even greater thirst for getting S14 off and running, and a Big Thanks to all in the chat who support TB12 and the Pats run for 7! I know we have a ton of Pats fan out there! LOL — LETS GOOOOOO!!!!! #S14Dynamite!

DA: First and foremost…I would like to thank YOU, AJ, for selecting me for this interview. I am very appreciative of it and I hope I answered all the questions to everyone’s liking. More importantly, know that I answered them honestly. I would also like to thank everyone who has made the SFL what it is today and what it will become in the future. I am brand new and I realize a lot of people have put a lot of time, work, and sacrifice into this league long before I came around and I truly respect and appreciate it. To everyone else reading, I would just like to say…Don’t let my age fool you! I just turned 50 in June but I don’t act like it, feel like it, or look like it. That being said, I have a half century of sports knowledge, coaching, leadership, and experience to bring to the table. I am beyond excited at the opportunity to become part of the SFL! I can’t wait to purchase my team gear from Sector Six and contribute to my new team’s success towards chasing an SFL Championship!

JM: Shout out to the SFL community for welcoming me in with open arms and I can’t wait to get drafted and step out under the SFL lights.

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